2021 Autism BrainNet Appreciation Award: Recipients announced

Autism BrainNet is pleased to announce that it has selected five recipients of the 2021 Autism BrainNet Appreciation Award, a new initiative that recognizes outstanding partners and collaborators for their dedication to advancing brain tissue research into the causes and treatments of autism and related neurodevelopmental conditions.

Autism BrainNet relies on a strong partnership with medical examiners, pathologists, researchers and families to bring the use of postmortem brain tissue to the forefront of autism research. Starting this year, the Appreciation Award will be given annually in the form of a plaque to eligible candidates, including medical examiners, tissue banks, organ procurement organizations, funeral homes and other individuals and organizations that are partnering with Autism BrainNet.

“We are excited about introducing the Autism BrainNet Appreciation Award,” says David Amaral, Autism BrainNet scientific director. “We want to express special gratitude to the 2021 recipients for helping establish Autism BrainNet and facilitating donations. We also take this opportunity to thank all our collaborators who throughout the years have supported the program and its mission with enthusiasm and dedication.”

The 2021 Autism BrainNet Appreciation Award recipients are:

Sally S. Aiken, M.D.
Chief Medical Examiner, Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office

Elizabeth A. Bundock, M.D., PhD
Deputy Chief Medical Examiner, Vermont Department of Health

Gerald D. Fischbach, M.D.
Distinguished Scientist and Fellow, Simons Foundation

Alycia Halladay, Ph.D.
Chief Science Officer, Autism Science Foundation

Alison Singer, M.B.A.
Co-Founder and President, Autism Science Foundation

About the 2021 recipients

Sally S. Aiken has practiced forensic pathology for 30 years. She has served as medical examiner, and frequently chief medical examiner, in Spokane County Washington for 21 years and became chief as the office converted from a coroner to a medical examiner system. The Spokane office has been accredited by the National Association of Medical Examiners since 2004. In 2020, the 30-year-old office moved from an outgrown location into a giant, state-of-the-art facility. Aiken was elected president of the National Association of Medical Examiners in 2020. In her experience, families of children with autism appreciate the opportunity to donate to Autism BrainNet in hopes of helping research the causes of autism. They view this donation, made to benefit other children and families, as a positive contribution in the memory of their child.

Elizabeth Bundock is a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist, serving as Vermont’s deputy chief medical examiner and providing consultation services through Gray Matter Forensic Consulting, LLC. In addition to having extensive autopsy experience, she routinely performs postmortem examination of central nervous system specimens by request of her colleagues and provides review of medicolegal cases for ongoing investigations and legal proceedings. Having completed a doctoral degree in neuroscience, medical degree, residency in pathology and fellowships in neuropathology and forensic pathology, Bundock has particular interest in sudden pediatric death, epilepsy-related deaths and head trauma. She has publications in the peer-review literature on subjects of pathology and death certification and has been invited to participate on national, multi-professional committees to improve investigation, autopsy and certification of sudden deaths of children and persons with epilepsy. She is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Vermont and member of the National Association of Medical Examiners, American Academy of Forensic Sciences, American Association of Neuropathologists and American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Gerald D. Fischbach is a distinguished scientist and fellow at the Simons Foundation, which he joined in 2006 to oversee the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) program. Formerly dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences at Columbia University, and director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health from 1998–2001, Fischbach received his M.D. degree in 1965 from Cornell University Medical School and interned at the University of Washington Hospital in Seattle. He began his research career at the National Institutes of Health, serving from 1966–1973. He subsequently served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, first as associate professor of pharmacology from 1973–1978 and then as professor until 1981. From 1981–1990, Fischbach was the Edison Professor of Neurobiology and head of the department of anatomy and neurobiology at Washington University School of Medicine. In 1990, he returned to Harvard Medical School where he was the Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor of Neurobiology and chairman of the neurobiology departments of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital until 1998. Throughout his career, Fischbach has studied the formation and maintenance of synapses, the contacts between nerve cells and their targets through which information is transferred in the nervous system. He pioneered the use of nerve cell cultures to study the electrophysiology, morphology and biochemistry of developing nerve-muscle and inter-neuronal synapses. His current research is focused on roles that neurotrophic factors play in determination of neural precursor fate, synapse formation and neuronal survival. Gerald Fischbach is a past president of the Society for Neuroscience and serves on several medical and scientific advisory boards. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a former non-resident fellow of the Salk Institute.

Alycia Halladay is the chief science officer for the Autism Science Foundation (ASF), where she oversees scientific activities, grants, and initiatives. The ASF focuses on investments in junior level career researchers to both improve scientific discovery while training the next generation of scientists in using cutting edge technologies. In addition, the ASF provides outreach and communication support to Autism BrainNet, helping to explain the importance of this program to families and individuals with autism. She also produces a weekly podcast aimed specifically at explaining scientific information to the public. Prior to joining the ASF in 2014, she served as the senior director of clinical and environmental sciences at Autism Speaks. There, she helped lead the Early Access to Care Initiative, which aimed to lower the age of diagnosis for autism and improve access to evidence based services. She received a Ph.D. in biopsychology from Rutgers University in 2001 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in 2004. She still holds a faculty appointment at Rutgers. She has a 9-year-old daughter with autism spectrum disorder.

Alison Singer is co-founder and president of the Autism Science Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to funding innovative autism research and supporting the needs of people with autism. As the mother of a 23-year-old daughter with autism and legal guardian of her older brother with autism, she is a natural advocate. Singer served on the federal Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) for 12 years, where she chaired the Safety and Housing Working Groups and served on the subcommittee responsible for writing an annual strategic plan to guide federal spending for autism research. She currently serves on the executive boards of the Yale Child Study Center, the Seaver Autism Center at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the Marcus Autism Center at Emory University, the University of North Carolina Autism Research Center, as well as on the external advisory board of the CDC’s Center for Developmental Disabilities and the New York State Immunization Advisory Committee. In addition, Singer serves on the board of directors of the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) and chairs the INSAR Communications Committee. In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics named her an “Autism Champion.” In 2017, she received the INSAR “Outstanding Research Advocate” award and, in 2018, she received the New York Families for Autistic Children “Research Advocacy” award. Prior to founding the Autism Science Foundation in 2009, she served as executive vice president of Autism Speaks and as a vice president at NBC. She graduated magna cum laude from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in economics and has an MBA from Harvard Business School. In 2020, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Emory University.